Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Psychological Experiments by Professor Wallace
(S258: 1876)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: In a famous episode in the history of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Wallace, who was President of the Biology Section in 1876, allowed a paper on spiritualism research by Professor William Barrett to be read at the annual meetings in mid September. A long discussion took place after the paper was presented, with Wallace (as Chair of the session) interjecting various comments. The longest is presented below; it appears (on page 93) of what is apparently a transcript of the entire discussion (close to fifteen thousand words) that was printed in The Spiritualist issue of 22 September 1876. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S258.htm


     The Chairman [[Wallace]]--As I have myself been more or less acquainted with the whole series of phenomena which have been referred to, for about thirty years, I should like to give a few things I have myself met with, which will serve to answer some of the theories propounded to account for them. With regard to the phenomena of mesmerism, I found myself able to produce them thirty years ago, almost in the same form as they occur at the hands of public exhibitors, and two or three curious little instances convinced me that they could not be accounted for by any unconscious action or any preconceived ideas. To take one very slight case, which made a very great impression upon me, showing that there was a real action upon the muscles, and not a preconceived idea that there ought to be, or must be, such an action. Once I was in a school, and had a great number of little boys under my charge, and among these I used to experiment. One day I had one of these boys in my room. I had been making him rigid in the usual way, when the bell rang for dinner. I immediately made the contrary passes, to bring his arm back to the normal state. We both thought it was all right, and came down stairs to dinner. After a little while I saw him trying to catch my eye, and found he was sitting with his knife in one hand, and the other hand down at his side, and unable to bring up his fork to his mouth. I had to get up, and make two or three passes and relieve him, so that he could eat his dinner. There was a clear case, in which there was no deception on his part. I used also to perform the experiment of drawing a chalk-line on the floor, and making a pass across it. The result was, the boy would walk up to it, and there stick, and generally become rigid. This was done in the presence of all his schoolfellows, and they said--"Take a run at it, and then, of course, you will go over it." "Oh, yes," he said; and so he ran at it, and the result was the moment his feet got on to the mark they stuck so firmly that he fell perfectly flat on the floor. There was a case in which he evidently believed he could get across the mark. I saw another curious example in South America, for, when two thousand miles in the interior, my brother, who felt a great interest in this subject, used to call little Indian boys out of the street, who certainly had never heard or known anything about it, and he found that at least half of them were acted upon in exactly the same way as the boys in England. He could send them into this extraordinary state, and produce rigidity and anything of that kind. Still more extraordinary, one day he and I were going to take a walk into the forest, and we stayed at a hut. He saw a man sitting in the hut, and asked him to let him try to send him to sleep. He made a few passes over him, and found he could immediately make him rigid. He told the man to lie down on the floor, made a pass over him, and said, "Stop there till we come back." The man tried to move, but could not, and when we came back in about an hour, there he was lying on the floor, exactly in the same condition in which we left him, perfectly awake, and begging earnestly to be allowed to get up; we sent a pass across him, and he rose. Another curious instance I had myself was the inducing what I used to call community of taste and feeling. One of the patients I had in the school was very easily acted upon in this manner. When he was sent into a mesmeric trance we used to make a chain of all the persons present, connected by hands with me. Then I would secretly take something out of my pocket to put it into my mouth. If it was sugar he would immediately begin working his mouth, and saying, "How nice it is!" If it was salt he would say, "What have you put salt in my mouth for?" If anybody came behind me and pricked me in any part of the body, he would immediately put his hand to the same part and say he was pricked. That happened so repeatedly that I am perfectly certain there was no possible hint by which he could have obtained this detailed information of what was going on; his sensations, in fact, reproduced my sensations. That is a phenomenon I have not seen explained anywhere. Again, with regard to clairvoyance, I have never seen a perfect case of clairvoyance myself, but I must recall to your recollection that a former professor of chemistry, Professor Gregory, devoted many years to the investigation of this subject, and has published a large volume in which he collected together a host of facts, and shows that in numerous cases the true clairvoyance, that is, the knowledge of writing which could not possibly be present in the mind of any one of the spectators, was acquired by these patients. One of the most striking cases was to buy some nuts containing mottoes. These, of course, could not possibly be known to any individual present. One was picked up at random and put into the hand of the clairvoyant, who held it up and read the motto; the nut was broken open, and found word for word as it was read. That was done scores of times in his presence, and in one case, which he mentions particularly, the motto consisted of 96 words, the whole of which was given correctly. I thought that was a very curious suggestion of Mr. Hyde Clarke's, that we must bring these things over and over again. There are certain phenomena you cannot bring before you; they must be sought for, and a case very much in point is that of the meteorolites, the fall of which was for many centuries disbelieved by scientific men, and it was only after a considerable number had been actually recorded that they accepted it as a fact. According to the general system of unbelief, we ought to disbelieve it even now, because the scientific men cannot prognosticate when a meteorolite is going to fall, and we cannot go and see them fall. Professor Barrett himself thinks that many of these phenomena, when they were so extraordinary and beyond his own knowledge, were to be accounted for by simultaneous delusion of the spectators, and he particularly alluded to the case of Mr. Home. Mr. S. C. Hall was present at a private party, at which Mrs. Hall and another lady of my acquaintance were also present, and Mr. Hall told me this fact, which he has also published himself. After Mr. Home had taken some hot coals from the fire, he placed one on the top of Mr. Hall's bare head, drawing up the white, thin hair around it till the coal glowed in the middle of his head. Mr. Hall declares he felt no sensation of pain or burning, and his hair was not singed; but several other persons touched the coal while it was on his head and got their fingers burnt. A little bit of confirmatory evidence I want to adduce to you, to show that this was not a coincident hallucination of all the persons present, is this, that the next morning, when Mr. Hall brushed his hair, some particles of cinders were brushed out, and I think that is a considerable proof that the coal was really put upon his head. I will now call upon Professor Barrett to reply. . . .


*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Return to Home